In 1979, President Jimmy Carter of the United States brokered a peace deal between President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, which saw the return of the Sinai to Egypt, after 12 years of occupation following the 1967 Arab – Israel War. The 1967 six- day war humiliated the entire Arab world as Israel, with the help of American military hardware and intelligence, reduced to rubble the entire air forces of Egypt and Syria adding the Sinai and the Golan heights to its bounty of Arab occupied lands. President Sadat pointedly said after signing the 1979 agreement, “I can fight Israel but I cannot fight America”. Egypt has been at peace with Israel since then and played the pivotal role in numerous ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel, including the most recent one in August this year.
In 2000, US President Bill Clinton nearly brokered a peace deal between Mr Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister. It was a six months negotiation in which Israel was to surrender the West Bank and dismantle Jewish settlements. Barak accepted the deal but President Clinton, in his memoirs, My Life, said Arafat did not say no or yes to the agreement. Arafat had wanted the inclusion of the right of return for Palestinians expelled from Israel in 1947 a deal breaker for Israel. To President Clinton, Arafat failed to rise to the level of a statesman and seize the opportunity of regaining almost 90 per cent of the Palestinian territory. This was arguably the nearest the world came to “two-state solution’’ (one Israeli and another Palestinian) living side by side.
The present Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is busy expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and I don’t believe he cares much about the two-state solution. President Clinton nearly pulled off a deal, had it not been for the indecisiveness and weakness of Arafat and the factionalism within the PLO which probably contributed to Arafat’s indecision. What the world has witnessed in the past one month, with Israel unleashing an imaginable brutality in Gaza, could not have happened. In 2001 Arafat belatedly ‘accepted’ the deal but the new Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, had other ideas.
The United States, as shown above, is the only country that has the key to the solution of the Arab – Israeli conflict. It is the country Israel listens to and one which defends it even when it (Israel) is wrong. It will never join in the condemnation of Israel at the United Nations. Israel also influences American foreign policy more than any other country. While the US may disapprove of expansion of settlements in the West Bank and the killing of the innocent civilians in Gaza, it is reluctant to condemn Israel. The powerful Israel lobby in Washington DC is too vigilant to allow this to happen.
There must be a paradigm shift on this conflict both in the US, Israel and in Palestine. Permanent occupation of Arab Land is not sustainable in the long -run and given the demographic changes in region, Israelis will soon be grossly outnumbered by Arabs. Palestinians on the other hand, especially the radical Hamas, should come to terms with the reality of Israel as an independent State in the region. President Obama should in his last two years in office pick up the pieces and broker a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians along the parameters set by President Clinton.
Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor